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Richard III

John Douglas Thompson gives an outstanding performance in the title role of Shakespeare and Company's production of the Bard's play.

By Berkshires
John Douglas Thompson
in Richard III
(© Kevin Sprague)
John Douglas Thompson
in Richard III
(© Kevin Sprague)
John Douglas Thompson's Richard III, on view in Tony Simote's sped-up, broad-strokes adaptation the Bard's Richard III at Shakespeare & Company, seems to get a real kick out of being a baddie. Where some actors might portray the multi-murderous usurper as a Machiavellian brooder, Thompson, who gives an outstanding performance, retains traces of a mischievous child. From the outset , he shares with the audience his delight in the intricacies of his schemes, as if to say, "See what a clever boy am I!"

It's an approach that draws onlookers in rather than repulsing them, which is an interesting gambit. Still, having Richard's de facto campaign manager, the Duke of Buckingham (given delightful shadings by Nigel Gore), later lead a participatory chant of "Ri-chard! Ri-chard!" is perhaps pushing it.

Not only does the jokiness break the mood of this production -- austere in design yet lavishly costumed -- you really don't want spectators identifying too much with the monstrous Richard. After all, this would-be monarch is not simply a diseased and stunted soul; he is more than a little passive-aggressive, definitely bipolar, a raging narcissist with some serious boundary issues, and maybe even a bit schizopherenic. He's a psychiatry textbook all rolled up into one fascinating character!

Fortunately Thompson gets terrific support from the supporting cast, most notably Elizabeth Ingram as the former queen Margaret (her husband, Henry VI, was one of Richard's early hits), who returns from exile to heap curses on the entire backbiting court. Her face twisted into a rancorous rictus, Ingram nonetheless manages to deliver her invectives with such force and exquisite elocution that you can't help clapping, when your first impulse might be to shout "Snap!"

As for the play's ever-mounting body count, it proceeds at so dizzying a pace, it's tough to keep track of who got offed and why (the ghosts that appear toward the end to hiss ""despair, and die!" provide a helpful recap). An early loss worth mourning is that of the eloquent Duke of Clarence, Richard's eminently disposable brother, movingly played by company co-founder Rocco Sisto.

Also regrettable is the eventual offstage dispatch of feisty Lady Anne (Leia Espericueta), who inexplicably falls for what has got to be the most outrageous maneuver in the annals of seduction: Richard killed her husband, he tells her, "to help thee to a better husband."

Meanwhile, the latest ex-queen, Elizabeth (Tod Randolph), proves a tougher customer when Richard tries to pressure her into pimping out her daughter, who also happens to be his niece. The guy's outrageous -- And, in Thompson's sure hands, he's also disconcertingly relatable.


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